High and Mighty

June 14, 2005


When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana patients recently in Gonzales v. Raich, the real dynamics of the pot debate were revealed. Political (as opposed to social) conservatives and libertarians are growing increasingly disturbed about the legal underpinnings of the Drug War, and liberals are waffling badly, struggling to maintain New Deal powers while practically begging Congress to take those powers away from them, at least when it comes to marijuana.

And Congress is moving in that direction.

One would expect that, in the wake of such a ruling, anti-drug forces in Congress and in state legislatures would feel empowered to go after pot in a big way, but just the opposite occurred. On Tuesday, an amendment to defund the Justice Department’s prosecution of medical marijuana patients in states where it is legal failed in a House vote, but gained 13 votes over last year. The bipartisan amendment, introduced by U.S. Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), failed 161-264, but gained in strength.

Similarly, Raich seems to have had little effect on state legislatures. On Tuesday, June 7, the day after the Supreme Court announcement, Rhode Island’s Senate passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, 34-2. Fifty of the 75 members in Rhode Island’s House are co-sponsors of a similar bill.

Perhaps, in the end, right-wing arguments to legalize pot, especially medical pot, will rule the day. The three Supreme Court dissenters on Raich – Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Clarence Thomas and Sandra Day O’Connor – ruled that Congress was “overreaching” in regulating marijuana grown at home, by prescription-wielding patients in a state where such prescriptions were legalized by an overwhelming vote of the people. Meanwhile, the best liberal Justice John Paul Stevens could say, writing for the majority, is that sick people didn’t deserve to be treated like this, and perhaps one day “their voices … would be heard in the halls of Congress.”

Just days before the Raich decision, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, one of the architects of Reaganomics, touted a new report more certain to resonate with Congress than any medical analysis of pot. The June 2 report, “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” spearheaded by Harvard economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron, laid out that regulating and taxing pot would produce combined national savings and revenues of $10 to $14 billion. More than 500 other leading economists endorsed this report in an open letter to The New York Times. The clamor from the right is getting increasingly hard to ignore.

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